Russian Politics: The Paradox of a Weak State

Overview

What has become of the Russian state twenty years after the collapse of Communism? Why have the rulers and the ruled turned away from democratic institu¬tions and the rule of law? What explains the Putin regime's often uncooperative policies towards Europe and its difficult relations with the rest of the world? These are among the key issues discussed in this essential book on contemporary Russia by Marie Mendras, France's leading scholar on the subject.

Mendras provides an ...

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Overview

What has become of the Russian state twenty years after the collapse of Communism? Why have the rulers and the ruled turned away from democratic institu¬tions and the rule of law? What explains the Putin regime's often uncooperative policies towards Europe and its difficult relations with the rest of the world? These are among the key issues discussed in this essential book on contemporary Russia by Marie Mendras, France's leading scholar on the subject.

Mendras provides an original and incisive analysis of Russia's political system since Gorbachev's perestroika. Contrary to conven¬tional thinking, she contends that today the Russian state is weak and ineffective. Vladimir Putin has dismantled and under¬mined most public institutions, and has consolidated a patronage system of rule. The Medvedev presidency was but one chapter in the story, as Putin's re-election exemplifies. Political and economic power remains concentrated in the hands of a few groups and individuals, and the elites remain loyal to the leadership in order to hold on to their positions and prosper. Those at the helm of the state are unaccountable to the society they govern.

Up until the economic crisis of 2008, ordinary Russians largely turned a blind eye to these authoritarian methods because living standards had markedly improved. The economic slowdown, rising corruption and unfair elections have put the leadership under pressure, and have caused unprecedented public protest.

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Editorial Reviews

Sir - Lawrence Freedman
A lucid, fresh, and shrewd history of the failure to modernize the old Soviet state by the new Russian elite. It is particularly timely in light of the current crisis in the Russian political system.
Lilia Shevtsova

Marie Mendras's fine insights into Russia's trajectory encompass the roots of personalized power, the evolution of society, the political dynamics of the leadership, the paradoxes -- and vulnerabilities -- of a system of power which 'hollowed out public institutions,' and the resurgence of aggressiveness in Russian foreign policy. Russian Politics is a first-rate, compelling, and indispensable study of one of the most important countries in the world at the start of a dramatic search for its identity.

Susan Richards

At last, a serious scholar has confronted the fallacy that Russia is condemned to autocracy. If you look carefully, argues Marie Mendras, you will see that attitudes are evolving and that the potential for a civil society does exist. Now it is up to the Russians. Yes, to that.

Sir Lawrence Freedman

A lucid, fresh, and shrewd history of the failure to modernize the old Soviet state by the new Russian elite. It is particularly timely in light of the current crisis in the Russian political system.

From the Publisher
"One of France's leading Russian experts, Ms. Mendras points up continuities from tsarist times...She portrays a society riddled with mistrust and corruption, which has fostered an elite around Mr. Putin that has hugely enriched itself. For all his proud talk of a 'sovereign democracy,' this has not been good for Russia. One poll she quotes finds 85% of Russians feeling they have no influence over how their country is run."—Economist

"A brilliantly textured portrait and fiercely argued expose of the troubled and troubling political condition of Putin's Russia. Paradoxically, as Mendras lucidly explains, the Russian state abuses its citizens precisely because it is too weak to control itself. ... the most stimulating work yet published on the origins and evolution of post-communist Russian politics."—Stephen Holmes, Walter E. Meyer Professor of Law, New York University School of Law

"This is a lucid, fresh and shrewd history of the failure to modernize the old Soviet state by the new Russian elite. It is particularly timely in the light of the current crisis in the Russian political system."-Sir Lawrence Freedman, Professor of War Studies and Vice-Principal, King's College London

"Marie Mendras fine insights into Russia's trajectory encompass the roots of personalised power, the evolution of society, the political dynamics of the leadership, the paradoxes and vulnerabilities of the managed democracies and bureaucratic capitalism and the resurgence of aggressiveness in Russian foreign policy. Russian Politics: the Paradox of a Weak State is a first-rate, compelling, and indispensable contribution on one of the most important countries in the world at the start of a dramatic search for its identity."-Lilia Shevtsova, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of Russia: Lost in Transition

"At last, a serious scholar has confronted the fallacy that Russia is condemned to autocracy. If you look carefully, argues Mendras, you will see that attitudes are evolving and that the potential for a civil society does exist. Now it is up to the Russians. Yes, to that."-Susan Richards, Open Democracy and author, Lost and Found in Russia

"A solid study of the Putin political regime, emphasizing the structural tensions between a highly effective authoritarian political machine and a governmental system that cannot effectively manage the modernization of post-Communist Russia." — Russian Review

"... a convincing account of the Russian political arena since the 1990s ... a good source for graduate students as well as the general public to develop critical thinking, obtain advanced knowledge of Russian domestic and foreign politics today, and learn about the possible implications of Putin's presidency." — Europe-Asia Studies

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231703901
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 6/26/2012
  • Series: Columbia/Hurst Series
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,378,278
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Marie Mendras is Professor at Sciences Po University and Research Fellow with the CNRS and the Centre for International Study and Research (CERI) in Paris. She is an Associate Fellow with the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements xi

Maps xiv-xvi

Prologue 1

Introduction 9

1 The Myth of a Strong State: Legacy of the Empire and Autocracy 19

Imperial State, not Nation State 20

A People, not a Nation 25

The Ruler Ruled but did not Govern 29

The Dilution of the State within the Soviet System 32

The State as an Instrument of Power 34

2 Domestic Reform and Opening to the World 39

Opening Up: the End of the Besieged Fortress 40

The Central Relationship with the West 44

Gorbachev's Perestroika and the Quest for Modernity 46

The Government Misinforms Itself 49

A Better Life 51

Out of the Barrel 55

Understanding the Unexpected 57

The Misunderstanding over Ideology 59

Property and Free Vote: The Public-Private Separation at Stake 64

Economic Sovereignty 68

The Paradox of Mistrust 70

National Identity in the Turmoil of Change 73

3 The Defeat of Constitutionalism 79

The First Elections: Sovereignty and Representation Put to the Test 81

Calling in the Army and the End of Enchantment ?4

The War in Chechnya 88

The Pitfalls of the New Presidentialism 91

Disapproval of Yeltsin's Policies 93

The Communist Revival and the Protest Vote 97

The Temptation to Postpone the Elections 100

The Re-election of Yeltsin and the 'Oligarchs' 101

Downward Spiral 105

The Financial Crash 108

The Leaders' Responsibility 109

War Again 113

The Legislative Elections of 1999: Choosing Yeltsin's Successor 115

Putin's Guaranteed Victory 117

4 The Power of Bureaucracies 121

Survival of the Administrative Elites 122

Complexity and Diversity 125

Federal Governance 127

Consolidation of the Regional Systems under Yeltsin 130

Administrative ?Paternalism' 135

Local Powers 138

Disparities 140

The Preference for Unclear and Unsettled Rules 142

Bending the Rules 146

5 The Hollowing out of Public Institutions 151

The Break with Yeltsin 152

Violence and the Chechen Foe 155

Putin I and Putin II 158

Putin Consolidates his Power 160

Antifederalism 162

Increased Authoritarianism 166

Dropping the Mask 168

Putin's Re-election in 2004 170

Beslan: Exploiting Terrorism Politically 172

The 'Constitutional Coup' of 13 September 2004 175

Stranglehold on Information and the Media 177

Subverting Judicial Independence 179

6 A Distrustful Society 183

Withdrawing the Democratic Promise 184

Freedoms 185

Fears 190

A Low-Conflict Society? 192

Submission or Consent? 195

Putin's Image as Leader 197

Willing Hostages? 198

7 The Putin System: Unanimity and Autocracy 203

Rotation in Office Refused: A Sure Sign of Autocracy 204

The Medvedev Scenario 208

The Plebiscite of 2 December, 2007 210

The End of the Free and Pluralist Vote 213

Legalizing the Designated Successor 215

Why Keep Holding Elections? 217

Imitating or Downgrading Democracy? 220

Putin's Power and the Cult of Personality 223

Voluntary Servitude? 225

Putin III: The Unlikely Dyarchy 228

8 The Putin System: Patronage and the Enrichment of the Elites 231

Economic Growth, the Key to Consolidating the Political Regime 232

The Resources of Oligarchy 23

6 The Loyalty Paradigm 240

Clientelism and Corruption 243

Which ?Elites'? 245

Unstable Equilibrium 250

9 National Exceptionalism 257

The War in Georgia: A Turning Point 258

The Image of the Enemy 262

The Democratic Threat 264

Terrorism and 'Extremism' 267

Khodorkovsky: Second Act 271

The Imagined Community: A More and More Fragmented Russia 273

The Unequal Tandem 277

Conclusion 281

Chronology 287

Notes 299

Bibliography 327

Index 337

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